Politics of Climate Change: A Well-Oiled Machine
The politics of climate change are a lot like the politics of gun control, at least in the sense that President Obama meant when he asked in April 2013 how Congress could fail to deliver gun control legislation when 90 percent of the American public wants it. Polling in 2013 shows that 87 percent of Americans would like their national government to make clean energy a priority; only 12 percent think that this should be a low priority. The same poll showed that 70 percent of Americans believe that climate policy should be a priority, and 59 percent think the US should reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions even if other nations do not. Yet year after year, our national policy mechanisms have stalled efforts to do both. What’s holding us back? Special interests are, and more specifically, fossil fuel interests are.
In the year leading up to President Obama's first election, expectations that Congress would pass some sort of bill limiting greenhouse gas emissions were high. The percentage of Americans who said in public opinion polls that they believed that climate change was happening and that something should be done about it was rising in the wake of two dreadful hurricane seasons. At least one global warming bill had gotten out of committee in 2007 in the Senate, and in 2009 the House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security bill. Financial analysts were beginning to talk more about the costs of carbon emissions, often with the expectation that regulatory action was imminent.
All that came crashing to a halt in 2010, when, in July, Senator Harry Reid finally pulled the legislation when no solution to various objections to it could be reached. There is plenty of culpability to go around in this failure, but much of it can be laid at the door of fossil fuel companies and electric utilities opposed to any kind of emissions regulation. Lobbying spending by electric utilities peaked in 2010, after ratcheting up significantly in 2008 and 2009 after Mr. Obama was elected; the picture is similar for oil and gas companies and coal mining companies.
It is noteworthy that H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which would have instituted a cap and trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, had the fifth highest number of clients for whom lobbying was carried out in the 111th Congress. And this isn’t fifth out of ten, it was fifth highest for all issues on which lobbying was conducted.
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Climate change words image via Shutterstock.